Saturday, January 13, 2007

Human beings and abstraction

I am often amazed at people's proclivity for abstraction. While the following comparison may be unfair, it does show how people can ignore certain obvious, and sometimes horrific, aspects of their surroundings:
Bertschinger explained that [in Mekele, Ethiopia in 1984] there was enough dried milk, sugar, oil, bread, and rice to feed about 500 people. Then she confessed to Buerk — and the camera — her terrible responsibility. Every few days, several dozen children would graduate from the feeding regimen Bertschinger had helped to establish, and she could replace them with new patients. She would step outside, where more than a thousand people sat waiting in the sun. When she appeared, there would be murmurs and cries, but the migrants remained seated in orderly rows. Bertschinger would examine children sitting alone or held aloft by a pleading parent. She would grasp their biceps to feel bones wrapped in leathery skin. Most importantly, she would search the children’s eyes for a spark of life. If she didn’t see that glint she passed on by — there was no point wasting food on a child who would soon be dead.

See this month's Walrus for Stars Above Africa. What follows are a few reports on the North American release of Sony's Playstation 3:
Police used pepper balls to contain a crowd waiting for the Circuit City... to open Friday morning... The crowd of 200... was waiting in line for the new Playstation 3. [WTOP Radio]

A scene straight out of Lord of the Flies started around 5 a.m. Thursday in front of the Best Buy. [ - thought you'd like that one, Bruce :-)]

A man goes to the hospital after slamming into a metal flagpole during a stampede at a... Wal-mart. []

Friday, January 12, 2007

The age-old story of income inequality

In another of those coincidences I do so enjoy, I happened upon this article by Wheelan as I'm reading Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton. Where I would normally tend to side with Wheelan's argument regarding income inequality, de Botton reminds me of just how old not only the gap between the rich and the poor is, but also the very idea of taking responsibility for one's station in life. Wheelan says:
If the gap between rich and poor gets too large, and if those at the bottom feel they have no meaningful route to the riches at the top, then the fabric of society will fray, or even come unraveled entirely.

Utter hyperbole. As Smith and Hume said well over 200 years ago (in their backhanded fashion), it's the rich that provide the greatest service to society, fueling economies with their desires and silly whims.

Wheelan does temper his thoughts as he goes along, though, and raises many of the same points as de Botton, such as our peers wielding more influence on how we view our station than absolute figures, while acknowledging that television can distort one's peer group (it's almost like I *know* Tomkat, ya know). :-)